Unless you’re a car fanatic, the basic premise of Le Mans ’66 might not get you revved up. It’s essentially the story of a Brit and an American who join forces to fight Ferrari’s dominance of the motor-racing world, in a single race that lasts a day.
But, throw in Bourne and Batman as the movie’s leads, plus director James Mangold (Walk the Line, The Wolverine), and you’ve got a scintillating tale that celebrates beautiful classic cars, a turbulent friendship and visceral racing sequences.
“The goal to me, in an age of incredibly computer-enhanced action movies, was that there could be something profoundly analogue and real and gritty about the film and the sexiness of these beasts, the cars, their engines, the danger,” Mangold has said.
“These characters are riding in a thin aluminium shell at 200 miles an hour around a track. The miracle that was their daring and their survival under these circumstances was something that I really wanted to try to convey.”
Mangold achieves just that with scenes that put you in the heart of the action by providing the driver’s perspective from the opening sequence and throughout the film – to particularly exhilarating effect in the film’s final stretch, which is entirely dedicated to the tension and drama at Le Mans ’66.
The movie begins and ends at Le Mans, starting in 1959, when Texan driver Carroll Shelby (Damon) wins the coveted title. His elation is punctured when he’s informed by doctors that a heart condition prevents him from ever racing again. With typical determination, he shrugs off the devastating news and reinvents himself as a car designer and salesman, with a team of brilliant mechanics and engineers behind him.
The team includes forthright British racer Ken Miles (Bale), who has no edit button and a propensity for throwing things around the garage while yelling obscenities. “I’m not what they call a people person,” he has the self-knowledge to state, although we see a more sensitive side in his interactions with wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe) and son Peter (Noah Jupe).